Cal State Retreats from Remediation

The massive California State University system’s decision to eliminate all noncredit remedial classes next fall will “either remove roadblocks to success for struggling students or set more of them up for failure, depending on whom you ask,” according to an interesting article by Katherine Mangan, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Please have a look.

If you are unfamiliar with California’s higher education system, it is huge, but fairly simple in structure and mission. At the apex are the University of California schools, like Berkeley, UCLA, and such. These schools are research-oriented and highly selective. Next are the more numerous CSU colleges—the subject of the article. Community colleges (over 100 of them) are open admission and presumably will keep their remediation courses.

The article is a good chance to take stock of what is going on with co-requisite remediation—a national trend that does affect community colleges. You will discover from the piece that it’s sort of a mixed bag in terms of results in various states.

At CSU, faculty members were told they should redesign their courses to offer more basics to unprepared students. This is especially troublesome to many math professors, who say it’s wrong to place students barely competent in arithmetic into an algebra class, even with remedial help. These educators also say that, if you place weak students in a rigorous class, it forces the teacher to water down content.

Stand-alone developmental classes have been targeted by reformers. Some studies have indicated that co-requisite remediation produces better results and is less expensive. In a few locations colleges have simply eliminated developmental courses altogether.

The Texas system of higher education is more fragmented than California’s. Our is the product of tradition, regional and cultural differences, and historic racial segregation. Some regional universities such as UT-Dallas are highly selective, while others, for all practical purposes, are open admission. Adopting the California model of developmental education would be problematic, to say the least, in our state.

From the CHE article:

Four in 10 entering freshmen at Cal State must complete at least one remedial course before they can start earning college credit. The system’s chancellor, Timothy P. White, thinks that’s one reason for Cal State’s dismal 19-percent four-year graduation rate. The system has committed to doubling that, to 40 percent, by 2025, and hopes that jettisoning remedial classes will help.


Faculty members were directed to modify their existing courses, develop new ones, or introduce “innovative instructional approaches” that reach a broader range of student abilities without compromising rigor. Making sure students understand the basics is a particular concern in math, instructors say, because students who haven’t mastered arithmetic are hard-pressed to tackle algebra, and each successive course depends on mastery of the one before it.

Groups that have pushed for the elimination of free-standing remedial courses welcomed the change. Students who start out in remedial courses may feel demoralized and question whether they belong in college, the advocates say. Since those courses cost money but don’t count for credit, they can prolong the time it takes to graduate.